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NEEEF welcome; but poverty statistics confusing

05 March 2018
We remain in support of the National Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF) and applaud that a bill will be tabled in Parliament this year. 
However, we are concerned about the poverty statistics mentioned in the president’s speech this week when he launched the Cabinet workshop on NEEEF.
Are those analysing poverty data for the president, providing accurate conclusions?
NEEEF is needed to address the systemic, institutional, wealth, asset and income imbalance in Namibia. 
We believe that anyone who has no problem with the dramatically skewed GINI Coefficient (difference between rich and poor) in Namibia is blind to the devastating generational results of decades of apartheid and colonialism that have entrenched the economic advantages of a few, at the expense of many. 
The motivating principles articulated as the country pursues redress for genocide and land theft, is not separate from our need for NEEEF. 
Geingob’s NEEEF speech is largely directed to the international donor community, ratings agencies like Fitch, and the nervous sub-group of economic ‘haves’ in Namibia who are throwing criticisms at the bill from every direction. 
We think the president answered those barbs well and has effectively shifted the discussion from whether there will be an NEEEF to what NEEEB should look like.
However, we remain cautious about our usual Namibian Achilles’ heel - implementation.  Our government has a long track record of fervent vigour at the outset of something ‘new’, while all flies away into ineffectiveness and drastic budget cuts after the spotlight shifts to something else. 
We are less interested in ribbon cuttings and showy launches and more interested in training viable staff to do the work, sufficient budget allocations to get the job done, monitoring and evaluation of target impacts, oversight and transparency and a short-term amendment window worked into the language of the bill that provides for possible alleviation of any unforeseen, wide-ranging negative impacts that may emerge.
We insist on mandatory compliance with NEEEF (no one voluntarily surrenders economic advantages) with market-related targets that do not kill off investment, business innovation and profitable entrepreneurship. 
Most importantly, there must be the broadest base inclusion in the group of those who benefit from NEEEF.  The usual suspects of already empowered individuals dressed up in new CCs and Ptys created specifically for the share-feeding frenzy that will surely erupt, must be put in check.
Despite our cheers for NEEEF, in reviewing President Geingob’s speech launching the Cabinet workshop on the framework we were alarmed at the analysis and conclusions he announced which seem to under-report poverty in Namibia. 
Repeating a World Bank argument that the post-independence 1993/94 ‘poverty rate’ of 70 percent is a benchmark indicating Namibia has decreased poverty due to an 18 percent rate in 2015/16, requires far more explanation.  Are we comparing apples to oranges here? 
We are not statisticians, but to our eyes, poverty in Namibia is rising significantly, not falling.  The president should firmly and simply articulate this reality.  For many in the Land of the Brave, it is not about “building a prosperous nation” or engaging in “wealth creating opportunities” as the president said, it is about finding something to eat each day. 
The shanty towns surrounding every city in Namibia are spreading, not contracting.  Unemployment is rising, not falling; particularly youth unemployment and the number of recent graduates that are either under-employed or sitting at home doing nothing. 
The number of school leavers and fail rates of national secondary school tests is huge relative to the population. 
Reports of child deaths due to starvation and children affected by malnutrition in 2017 cite some of the highest figures since independence.  The prevalence of hygiene related diseases (Hepatitis E, Cholera, etc…), alcoholism, drug abuse, social calamities, crime and other measurements of malaise in Namibia are on the rise. 
How can the president’s speechwriters, in the middle of an economic recession, with the country’s economy in the most precarious position ever, leave an impression that poverty is decreasing in Namibia?  That does not match what is happening on the ground. 
Making things even more incredulous is pronouncement that in the 2017/18 budget, “N$6.7 billion is allocated for the administration (emphasis added) of various social safety nets.”  What percentage of that figure is actual money and benefits given to the people? 
‘Administrative’ costs are salaries of civil servants working in various ministries, capital costs, building maintenance and equipment fees, S&Ts for staff and other tangibles needed to drive a programme.  It is not money in actual people’s pockets. 
Government must reflect carefully before speaking too proudly about ‘catering’ for our most vulnerable citizens, when they are the very people suffering the most as they struggle to survive on poverty level social grants. Many of our orphans, pensioners and disabled are destitute.
Those who write the president’s speeches must drive through the suburbs outside of Windhoek and travel to remote areas in each region and witness how people really live.  Talk to them. Then, they must infuse the Head of State’s pronouncements with a larger dose of reality.

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